Recap: E09: Bugsy

You don’t want to get on the wrong side of Ben Siegel. He’s the most dangerous man in America.”

Born to a poor Jewish family in 1906 Brooklyn, New York, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel grew up to be one of the most infamous and influential American gangsters of his time. He began his criminal career on the streets of New York and then later moved to Los Angeles in 1936 to get away from the law. He had significant influence with the Jewish Mob, Italian-American Mafia and the Italian-Jewish National Crime Syndicate. He was one of the founders of Murder, Inc., a bootlegger, racketeer, casino owner and the driving force behind the development of the Las Vegas Strip.

Although he eventually came to run his own operations in Los Angeles, Siegel was primarily a hitman, well-versed in guns and violence. Despite this, the devilishly handsome and charming mobster was as well liked as he was feared.

Over the course of his life, he befriended film industry giants, movie stars and celebrities like Louis B. Mayer, Jack L. Warner,Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Frank Sinatra; and had close ties to big name mob bosses Al Capone, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Frank Costello, “Mickey” Cohen and Jack Dragna. He was a celebrity gangster who regularly made front-page news until he was shot dead in 1947 while staying with his girlfriend Virginia Hill.

Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories podcast show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy MacKenzie take an indepth look at Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel’s life and organized crime career. Can they figure out who ordered the hit on the hitman or was his murder orchestrated by someone outside the mob?

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Seeing how his parents struggle to make ends meet, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel quits school and joins a small lucrative crowd of petty thieves on Lafayette Street in Manhattan. By 14, he starts his own gang and racket scheme -- one dollar a month from pushcart vendors in exchange for protection. Only this little “insurance” policy wasn’t optional. A vendor tries refusing and Siegel lights his cart on fire.

Around this time, Siegel meets Meyer Lansky, who becomes his lifelong friend, and together they form the Bugs and Meyer Mob. Their activities include car theft, gambling and, to capitalize on Prohibition laws, bootlegging.

In 1929, Siegel marries his childhood sweetheart Esta Krakower, and they have two daughters. At the same time, Lansky makes contracts out to bootleggers offering their gang’s services as enforcers. Lansky and Siegel also form an alliance with Charles “Lucky” Luciano of the Italian Mob and help him kill his boss to clear his way to the top.

This creates tension with Salvatore Maranzano, leader of the Bonanno crime family, and a hit on Luciano is ordered. Before Maranzano can strike, Siegel sends in men disguised as the IRS and kills him. By the end of 1931, Luciano is the leading boss in New York with Siegel and Lansky by his side. He brings the Five Families in New York together by forming The Commission and Italian-Jewish National Crime Syndicate, with Siegel and Lansky building a formidable force of hitmen press would later call “Murder, Inc.”

In 1932, fellow mobster Waxey Gordon sics the Fabrizzo brothers on Siegel and Lansky for their role in putting him in jail. None of the brothers survive and Siegel escapes the law by moving out to California. His family is left behind in New York.

When Siegel gets to Los Angeles, he quickly makes friends in high places -- chiefly big names in the Hollywood film industry -- and throws lavish parties. It is also here in California that he meets the love of his life, Virginia Hill. A classic gangster’s moll, Hill carries messages for the mob, runs drugs and launders cash.

Everything goes smoothly until 1939, when Siegel takes out Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg for being a police informant and another mobster testifies against him. Arrested for murder, Siegel is locked behind bars with little hope of avoiding prosecution. But he eventually does.

To find out how, stay tuned for next week’s episode of Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories, a Parcast podcast drama series.Show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy MacKenzie will continue their examination of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel’s criminal career and the hit that takes out the infamous hitman.